Research scholars who have been camping outside the University Grants Commission office in New Delhi for several weeks now are learning the hard way that nobody in authority really cares for their voice, individual or collective.
It has been the same with the students of the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune who were on strike against the appointment of a BJP sycophant and B-grade film actor Gajendra Chauhan as the Chairperson of the illustrious institution. The students were forced to call off a 139-day strike having got little concrete support in their battle.
In the sixties and seventies, institutions of higher learning saw an upheaval with students marching in protest to bring about progressive changes in a system which they had found to be incompetent.
Whether it was the armed struggle in Naxal Bengal that fought over land distribution or the Gandhian Bihar movement that demanded the resignation of the Bihar government on the charges of corruption, India has had a long history of student led movements, right from the time of independence.
The Bihar movement was historic as it saw Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a right-wing student organisation, working in tandem with the Communist Party of India's (CPI) student wing All India Students Federation (AISF). The leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan had been able to unite students across oppositional ideologies in a cause-driven direction. .
However, the OccupyUGC protest is evidence that the camaraderie once evident across the political spectrum towards a common goal has disappeared. Students of various universities across the capital have been protesting by living on the roads, outside the UGC office to protest its decision to discontinue non-NET fellowships. The ABVP and All India Students Association (AISA), the student wing of CPI (ML), are both protesting the move. However, only the ABVP found an audience with the right-wing BJP Minister of Human Resource Development Smriti Irani.
An all-season weapon used by student protesters has been gheraos, which they put to good use in Jadavpur University in 2014 when the VC was gheraoed to protest against the molestation of a female student. Strikes have been more passé. Protesters today seem to find it easier to garner support through the social media than on the streets.
The 'padsagainstsexism' campaign, begun in Jamia University and which later spread to other campuses and the 'PinraTod' campaign, launched by the students of LSR, Delhi University to protest against the sexist hostel rules for women, found some resonances across the nation. 'Hok Kolorob' in Jadavpur University, too found support from students and intellectuals from Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bangalore through social media, as did the FTII strike. These campaigns were active digitally and on the streets equally.
Registering protest is no longer a difficult process. Facebook event pages, Twitter, Whatsapp, Snapchat's live stories or Periscope, allow interested individuals not only to keep track of movements but also to feel they are a part of the movement even if they can't be physically present. Digital tools also help students have a greater reach and impact.
Petition sites like change.org, avaaz.org, etc. for signature campaigns are another innovative method students have employed to rally support for their cause.
While certain protests are fuelled by particular incidents there are many others that attempt to hit the core of the problem - the ideology.
One example is the IIT Madras's Ambedkar Periyar circle, where a peaceful gathering of students, much like a study club, was banned purely because of the alternative ideologies that were being discussed. Those who sought an alternative are being punished under the reign of a right-wing government that seeks to serve the upper castes,
Universities, if UGC had its way, would become virtual panopticons that can monitor and squish protests in the making. Recently, the UGC issued a guideline for 'safety and security' of students on and off campus, which involved building higher walls with barbed wires around them. The students are aware that such measures would only be implemented against the residents of those hostels to contain and discipline them.
While critics might brand forms of dissent as anarchy, it is within the purview of an individual's rights to gather peacefully and demonstrate against violations of rights or injustices, and demand redressal. The institutions however, in a bid to exert control and order, in line with the fascist ideology the country seems to be leaning towards, have increasingly been taking measures to shut the doors on debate and dialogue.
Recently the right-wing ABVP made a clean sweep of the Delhi University elections. The muscle and money power that they are able to access and throw at the students to herd them together has been phenomenal in the last few years. Even before Narendra Modi became PM, he had visited Sri Ram College of Commerce, only to face a protest by students. The lathi charge that ensued was inflicted on all students except those of the ABVP, who helped the police.
In youth politics, today, there's a lacuna for leaders. The absence of a great youth leader is greatly felt. Even Rahul Gandhi, the Congress's face for the youth, seems to be wanting in leadership skills and charisma.
There seems to be only one ideology that can seduce the youth of India - Hindutva - embedded in the clarion call for growth and development. And it is being swiftly lapped up by the world's largest youth population. Thus, in a situation where few have any sound democratic principles to offer to the next generation, the youth seem to have opted for a right-wing, fascist ideology that believes that all dissent must be suppressed, protests ignored and student protesters decimated.